American Black Walnut

I left school when I was 16 years old. I had few qualifications behind me; and no idea of what I would have liked to do for a living; or what kind of work I would be eligible to obtain. I had made an off-the-cuff preference to my teacher – my school attempted to place all students in work as they left, when they left at 16 years. My preference was to work in the open air.

Thus I ended up at East London in a vast 25 acre timber yard; a piece of real estate worth madness figures even then, let alone today. The timber yard was run by a family; at at the time I was unaware that the family were Christians and that they were a family whose Christian values they applied in as far as they were able to in running their timber business.

I remember there was a smaller offshoot company in Nigeria; which when I learned of gave me a mad idea to write to a company in Sierra Leone and enquire after a job with them in timber. Thankfully they never replied.

The work in East London proceeded and indeed was open air. My work was to measure boards of timber after they had been craned from a lighter at a dockside on a river and onto the quayside and there stacked into ‘sets’ by labouring employees. I was considered, like all the host of other lads doing similar work, to be office staff; possibly because I held a pen and a paper and a clipboard and some crayon which we referred to as ‘chalk’. The crayon was used to write on each board I measured the square footage of it in what was termed ‘foot run’. From this ‘foot run’ was calculated; by one knowing the standard thickness of boards in any given ‘set’, the cubic footage of any lighterful of timber as landed on the quayside.

Ships would come in from Africa, USA, Japan, and Eastern Europe, South America; the Far East; Borneo; Indonesia; Philippines; Russia; Scandinavia; and bring in hardwoods and softwoods to the London Docks down river in the east of the City of London. In those days there were still Tilbury; Gravesend; Leman Street; and at other places on The Thames massive oceangoing ship docks where huge quantities of goods were yet being loaded onto ships and off ships almost higgledy piggledy fashion. Containerisation was an incoming feature which occurred over the first few years of my employment.

The ships unloaded timber onto lighters, smaller non-motored vessels, pulled in trains of up to about five or six maximum, up river by tugs. A tug would caused a wide and powerful wake as it pulled cargoes up river; and these constant wakes eroded the river banks where banks were not reinforced by iron girders piled into their shorelines vertically. Over time, like the timber trade itself; tugs became a cause of great loss to and destruction of their environments.

My first day at the timber yard and I met a young guy named Mike, who knew the ropes and was going to show me some of them so as to get me begun as a useful employee. Mike took me to 32 shed. Every shed which sheltered ‘sets’ of timber, to keep them dry from rainshowers and protect them from hot sunshine, had a name or a number of its own in the 25 acre yard. There were perhaps thirty or forty huge sheds in all, some with roads running through them and sideloaders and forklifts using these roads as thoroughfares, and to shift timber by and load onto articulated lorries which carried timber deliveries all over the UK. No railways were ever used, funnily enough – although this has only just struck me as a fact and as an anomaly.

32 shed was the home of some exotic imported, and home-grown wood species in the shape of sawn boards. I remember there were Japanese Oak boards; none greater than 12 feet long since the Japanese variety was relatively small compared to an English or an American oak tree. 12 feet was a very long board for Japanese Oak. There was English Ash; a lovely white and beautifully grained hardwood; scarce and used sparingly by those who could afford to buy it. Little British timber other than softwoods was ever seen at the timber yard; native hardwoods were just too depleted historically in the UK and so used rarely consequently for logging purposes. There were some few other exotic woods there in 32 shed; and the first wood species whose board I ever measured; learned to measure upon; and had labouring men stack into an ‘order’ for a customer on the roadside to be picked up for a lorry by a sideloader: the first species was American Black Walnut.

American Black Walnut is an amazing wood. It is very dark, and very heavy, and when sawn but not yet planed it shows itself as a rough and dusty unattractive heavy board. It is however quite aromatic; and in fact many woods were so, and one could be identify them close up by their odours alone. No one who has smelt it ever forgets the smell of wet Afrormosia.

The boards of American Black Walnut I measured and moved that first day at that first job were few; the customer order required only ten or twenty square foot of timber; and boards say 2 inches thick soon mounted to twenty square foot. I did notice a few boards which had stayed unexposed to the sun and wind and lying beneath the top layers of the ‘set’ we were working from; that they had retained their freshness far better and showed almost as they had been when they had first been sawn at the sawmill in the United States before shipping. These few boards held in their grain along the length of them a beautiful purply-blue sheen, a feathered and figured grain I believe is the proper terminology. The boards were shimmering as one turned one this way and then that way, shifting it from its stack to the customer order pile. Later I was to see just how this American Black Walnut looked when planed and polished and put to use as a decorative feature in quite expensive furniture. There is nothing quite like it; excepting of course for a number of other beautiful and stunning woods I came across in my time at the yard.

Coming from a developed nation, The United States, American Black Walnut was of a course a scarce wood and was in those days highly prized and highly expensive to buy. American Black Walnut had been logged heavily for over a century before I got to see it for the first time in the yard.

Now I move on in time a little. Having acquired in my time at the timber yard a strangely abiding affection for woods, I have during my lifetime taken perhaps more notice of woods in use in homelife and in business than the average joe has? As I have got older and into retirement I have occupied myself among other things with collecting together a small, but for myself, a valued library of books about woods. One such book which I came across just a week or so ago and which was offered at an astonishingly good deal of less than £5, I bought; and when it arrived in the post soon after I saw there was an entry init for American Black Walnut. The book in question was: A Field book of American Trees and Shrubs : A Concise Description of the Character and Color of Species Common throughout the United States, together with Maps showing their General Distribution by Mathews, F. Schuyler (Ferdinand Schuyler), 1854-1938 

Here next is the entry I saw for American Black Walnut:

Black Walnut: A tall, handsome tree 50—75 and some times 150 feet high, with a trunk diameter of 3-4 feet , and not infrequently 8 feet in the Ohio Valley ; the trunk straight with stout branches nearly horizontal below, and at a Sharp angle with the stem above , forming a symmetrical round-headed tree. Bark warm medium brown, or dark (sepia) brown, very rough, with deep , short perpendicular furrows, and rounded confluent ridges. The inner bark yellow after exposure; the twigs stout , very gray-downy or ruddy tan and smooth. Leaves compound, with 11-17, sometimes 23 ovate lance-shaped leaflets , often a trifle heart-shaped at the base, and taper-pointed ; they are thin, bright yellow green above, somewhat downy and paler beneath, and turn yellow in autumn; the long stem 1-2 feet long, without the horse-hoof-shaped base . Flowers similar to those of J. cineria , the catkins thinner. Blooming in May. Fruit almost spherical, large, 1.1/3-3 inches or more in diameter ; the husk rough-dotted dull green, the shell thick, rough-ridged, dark sepia brown ; the meat sweet, rich flavored, oily ,two-lobed above, four-lobed below the middle. The Black Walnut is distributed through rich woodlands in the eastern United States from Mass. south to Fla., and west to southern Mich. Wis. Minn. Neb. Kan. and the San Antonio River, Tex. It is not native in Me. N. H. and Vt .; in Mass. it is very rare east of the Connecticut River and only occasional west of it; it is rare in R. I. and also in Conn., though more frequent and probably native at North Canaan. The tree is practically destroyed for further lumbering purposes. It has been almost exterminated in the Mississippi Valley and in the forests directly west of the Alleghany Mts. Certainly not less than 80 years are required for it to attain sufficient size for valuable timber, and during the lapse of nearly 40 years since it began to grow scarce little if anything has been done to increase the supply; on the contrary, the cutting has proceeded without regard for existing conditions. In the year 1899, over 38 million board feet were cut, and seven years later about 48 million, an increase of 24. 5 per cent . The wood is deep brown, aromatic , hard , heavy, rather brittle and coarse-grained; it is used in cabinet work, gun stocks, boat building, etc. Weight 38 lbs. to the cubic foot . 

I just love the way these guys and girls take such loving and precious care to detail precisely and clearly the foremost traits and qualities of items to which they have devoted a lifetime of study. Not just in woods as here; but the booklists on Amazon and eBay are crowded with books by these great yet unsung, unknown, obscure dedicated souls.

I do not mean the academic persons in the main, although a few of these academic persons I would include in my general praise and admiration. I mean the ordinary joe or jill here and there, who is not out for reputation; not up for a prize; not seeking for herself; but is wholly immersed in and self-denying in their pursuit of their chosen field for mining out truth.

The fact and witness that so many persons have been satisfied to live and die in such humble but dedicated lives is available for allcomers to take note of; one need not even purchase many of their books; but if you are low on funds or else unwilling to buy; many of these masterworks of care and dedication are available online gratis via Gutenberg Project; Hathi Trust; Google Play; and archive.org; and onlinebooks.library – these seem to me to hold the largest collections but there are yet several other more specialised online libraries which offer items free of charge

You might want to donate a small thankyou voluntarily now and then though?

Such persons who have laboured obscurely in the vineyards of scholarship are a band of persons who inspire me with hope and gratitude; hope for the future of a love generating a truly disinterested interest in humanity; and gratitude that these persons stand as models of lives well-spent for my money.

The entry above of American Black Walnut was published first in 1899; some 120 years ago. Yet the story of the Black Walnut tree and its forests has all to sadly a very contemporary ring to it. Regarding the tree’s severe depletion to a point of scarcity; a tree which was able to sustain in its former days millions of foot run of its timbers being harvested annually; at least for a decade or two; has not by human rapacity and disregard been brought extremely low in the world from its former glories across the USA. That such a turn of events souls have been observable and prevalent at the turn of the century 100 years ago is for me; and I hope for you; a shocking and a fearful thing to be learned of today; that we as a species have been on an industrial scale systematically ravaging the planet for over a century now. Is it a wonder that our sins are presently being found out and visited upon our heads? Is this visitation anything more or less than to have been expected in the longer view? Even in 1899? Does it look to be the case, as it seems to me to have been, that the generation of 1890 and thereabouts was content to grab what it was able to in the present and leave the future to be mopped up in some way by following generations?

And is this not the case with every generation, perhaps even before but certainly since; and is it not the case in our own generation still for many who do business by raping the earth and go hang the consequences? And is it not going to be the case for future generations for many who exploit without a thought of giving something back to nature in return for its bounty?

The conclusion seems to be that concerning the persons who take and do not give anything back that the animal urge to aggregate and to accumulate and to empire build and be a somebody during their lifetimes; all this is like a sickness in men (and sometimes in women), which pouts far too much emphasis on the present, on the life they themselves are living, on the material and the suppose ‘good things’ to be had of secular material life. Are these persons no other than the land grabbers of the past; the empire builders of the past; the petty Alexanders who aimed to accumulate so far that they would weep for having no more worlds to conquer.

And are not these sorts of persons very often the very antithesis of that group of persons who are and have been happy to write detailed loves stories to their interests and life-passions as a gift to posterity of their diligence and dedication? Is not one sort, the accumulator, the person who is all about now and nothing about any other time in their lives or in the past or future? Whereas the chronicler and the cataloguer and the person who aims to bring understanding and order and good sense to bear on earth’s properties and treasures; is this type not all about the legacy which s/he aims to leave posterity as a resource?

Perhaps it is that very fact of the gifter to posterity being contented and satisfied with an obscure and often a lowly place in the secular scheme of things which allows those who would land grab and deplete ores and mines a free-hand to spread their wills out across continents and dragoon into service thousands tens of thousands of people at their biddings? Certainly those amongst the logger barons of American Black Walnut during the 19th century didn’t seem to have bothered reading the entry copied in above and written about their disastrous activities.

On the American plains the buffalo and all over the Native American, the State of Nevada, and in Russian (when USSR) The Caspian Sea; The Northern Tundras; the seaports on the Jutland strip; in Australia the Native Peoples; and the iron mountains; in South America the rain forests; the precious metal mines; the timbers here and all over the world are all disaster areas in the present day; and all as a result of the hand of man; and almost ubiquitously at the hand of economic man.

In the timber yard I would measure up and shepherd into the 25 acre yard up to two or three shiploads – that’s around fifty lighters filled with timber unloaded and measured and set and stored away to season before going out to customers, or to the sawmill ot the kilns or to the moulding specialists. This was in the late 1960s. The yard itself at any one time probably had hundreds of thousands of tons of wood stored in it. Maybe millions.

This was one yard out of in London about five or six main timber dealers along the river from East inner London out as far as Enfield and Cheshunt; say a distance of ten or twenty miles. Most timbers, other than softwoods, which are conifers and which are much more easily made to be sustainable woods to produce; came from Africa; sub Saharan and east and west but not deep south. Nigeria. Ghana; Sierra Leone; Ivory Coast. During my time there these African woods were becoming less popular with customers, who used them mainly for making furniture, household and industrial. Their resource was becoming damaged and their price hence was steadily increasing. In their place arose a trade with the Far East where great forests of Meranti and Keruing grew; and of course the lovely Teak of India and Burma; the fragrant and beautiful Rosewoods of India and of the ‘Malayan’ peninsula; there was also Ramin from Indonesia and several other up and coming woods; nowhere near as desirable as African Walnut or Sapele or Utile or Agba; but far less expensive and more plentiful.

I was in the timber yard working for six years; and in that short space of time the drift of change due to depletions of timber resources had been palpable. Such was the scale of depredation.

My employers were good people and looking back I now see how generous and kind they were towards me and many persons. They went out of their way to employ a good amount of West Indian immigrants newly settled in Britain; and in a place like East London where at that time prejudice was not uncommon towards this class of immigrant; this action of theirs was highly commendable. A few persons with mental disabilities and persons with little hope of holding a job elsewhere found a niche there. I do not believe the Company was full aware of the calamity which was happening in some part at its hands.

A few more interesting bits and pieces before I close this one. Most softwoods came from Scandinavia; and were being farmed there,as they are yet today, responsibly and sustainably. We would occasionally get Cedar wood come in, and Cedar wood is another aromatic wood and one which is again superb and lovely. Not just to smell but when planed its grain was perpendicular to the length of the boards and decoratively mellow tan and figured as stripes of thinner dark tan lines and wider lighter coloured tan areas between the lines.

Cedar cam from Canada mostly; often not by lighter but by road. From the USA as a softwood came Douglas Fir. Now this was a sterling wood but not so decorative for furniture rather it is used as a building construction rafter etc. Some pieces of Douglas Fir came in which were 12 inches by 12 inches by 24 foot long – enormous items; and I knew even back then that one does not get many of those out of a single tree. It was impressive to see them but also a bit sad to think a complete tree of some staggering size and height had been the provider of such wares.

There was a hardwood known as Opepe; which was bright sunshine yellow when cut from its log. Now and them there would be seen in the inner heartwood running the length of the bole bright red blood coloured streaks in the yellow. And again sometimes Opepe would suffer what were termed thundershakes; a condition which harmed the commercial value of the timber and which at that time I believe the cause of the condition was not certainly known.

Thundershakes when the length of a log cut open showed the timber as having been almost perforated by some shock or by some catastrophe. These perforations ran at rightangles to the length of the tree; thus causing severely weak areas in the length of any timbers cut from such a tree. Along these perforations boards cut from a log of Opepe would give way quite easily. Opepe was in use for water jobs, like docksides and outdoor woodworks. It was very heavy very hard and very durable. But one bad thundershake could ruin a whole bole commercially. Opepe’s uses demanded great strength and resilience from it, and a shake of this kind could not be allowed to pass unnoted.

Thundershakes had various theories about their cause. One was that the tree had been struck by lightening. Another was that the shake occurred when the felled tree hit the ground. There were several other projections as to cause but I never have discovered a definitive answer to the question.

When Opepe was wet it stank quite pungently. Ah, memories!

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This article can also be found at our steemit blog: https://steemit.com/nature/@matthew.raymer/american-black-walnut

Thomas the Tank Engine

When my children were infants they and I used to watch an awful lot of children’s programmes together; often on VHS videotape. One of the very favourites for many enjoyable years was Rev. W Awdrey’s famous Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends. Those red and mustard and green and blue liveried engines became our good friends during that time of my life; and each one having a distinctive character of its own; Percy the little scruffy pleb engine; Henry the big one but sickly and slightly complexed with inferiority; Duck the proud and diligent engine; Stepney the sensitive and kind engine; Oliver the nervous doubtful one; and so on.

I remarked to a friend of mine one day at my workplace that I was considering writing a piece for my local parish magazine which used the spills and spoils of this gcompany of engines so as to throw light on our adult behaviours as they manifest themselves quite a lot.

I never did write the piece – until now – but my friend did encourage me to write such a piece and he said he tended to agree with me on my observation about how adults too often behave.

The author of the Thomas books, Rev W Awdrey, I do believe was a bit of a philosopher, and that he placed in front of children for their joy and use his observations upon how the secular world works. He did this by presenting his Thomas world to children and via his stories for little ones. I found as an adult watching the videos of Rev Awdrey’s stories, especialy the earliest migrations to screen which adhered very closely to the written books on which the TV stories and characters were based, that these stories carried for me considerable adult content to chew on. And so watching with my children was not only family fun for us all; but it was for me also a stimulus to thought.

The beauty of these Thomas stories is that they strip down to bare bones the wellsprings of actions and words which we speak to one another; not only so that children see why and how arguments and accidents occurr in life by way of human disagreement and discord; they also show well the causes and effects of disagreement and discord; causes like pride and snobery; timidity and over-compensating; anger and rivallry; thoughtlessness and negligence; and effects like going off the rails; and making a smash; and disobeying instructions; getting one’s own back; laying traps; scheming for advantage; and a host of other everyday items of behaviour we all see and laugh at or else disapprove on TV daily; but yet none of us own them for ourselves in our own consciences about our own motives and actions.

“Ah, wad some god the giftie gi’ us

To see oursels as ithers see us”

Today whilst cooking lunches for the family I was over a stove whilst the TV was on in another adjacent room in the house. I was able to overhear the dialogue on the TV show; and since it was a Sunday, the show was on the topic of that new Sabbath repast in UK: Politics. Sunday daytime TV here is wall-to-wall politics and ‘analysis’; analysis being pundits speaking those confirmations of one’s most obvious and first thoughts concerning the latest political news items or on a current event.

Daily we have The Daily Politics show and Sunday; just as the soaps carry their omnibus editions on the Sabbath here, so we have too The Sunday Politics to take in the gist and import of the whole of the previous week’s politics in UK. It used to be the case that politics did not happen on Sundays here at all; nor even often on Saturdays; but these days Saturday is less busy politically than Sunday and Sunday has become the prime day for making political speeches and addreses by Parliamentarians; and for policy and comment issues to be launched by government.

It is usual for MPs and for Canbinet Ministers of State, even The Prime Minister, to appear on daytime Sunday TV; it is that big an event; and a great draw to so many sofa-ridden oglers. It has ousted, replaced religion, and along with sport, for those lesser classes who are not interested in politics because they (at least they feel) they have no stake in them, the day is well-spent in front of the cathode ray tube. TV is the gym of many overweight persons here in UK, especially on a Sunday. Ironic to say so but the watching of sports on TV is possibly a significant contributor to the obesity problem in adults which we have here.

Now today our TV was on and The Sunday Politics was in full flood. I overheard a beef from members of government who sit in the Lower House The Commons, which House has the legisaltive power, about those sit in The Upper House, The Lords, which aims only at being a check on the sobreity and judgement of the Lower House, The Lords having no legislative power in itself.

The Lords however is able to slow down legislation being put to the Houses for consideration and for approval or amendment by The Commons. And this is where The Sunday Politics MP comes in.

We have here in UK soon upcoming a deadline date before which we have set ourselves a target, to ‘trigger Article 50’ of the European Union rules; which article 50 allows those who trigger it to set in motion negotiations for a trigering party to leave the said Eupropean Union. This is that Brexit you may have heard of?

The Lords has potential to slow down that bill of law which allows this trigger to be made before the set deadline date, so that the trigger is not ‘pulled’ before the due date. Indeed were The Lords to be mischievous, The Lords might be able to angle thijgs so that the earliest date Article 50 can be triggered is that day on which The European Union is celebrating 60 years of solidarity as a political and economic bloc! Perhaps you can see a Thomas the Tank Engine lookalike situation brewing up here?

The speaker on TV, a member of The Commons, was getting himself quite livid at the prospect of such eventualities being brought about by The Lords; and it was for the TV pundit interviewing him to calm him by suggesting that were The Lords to act in such an unsporting way (‘it’s not cricket’) then The Commons might well decide to set in motion abolishment altogether of this Upper House The Lords.

Now when we were children myself and my young friends would play soccer in the streets. We were not too well off and a plastic ball was an important and a privileged thing to be the owner of.

Thus it happened now and then, that whenever a friend of mine – or maybe myself I can’t recall? – felt aggrieved at a decision made by other players, such as a free kick or the allowing of a goal scored which was felt to be dubious in some way, the owner of the ball, iwhenhe was an aggrieved party, might well just pick up the ball and walk, leaving a field of street footballers nonplussed because without a ball to continue playing with. This indeed was a quite commonplace Thomas the Tank Engine moment in my experience in my younger days.

My contention is that the threat of abolition of the House of Lords made by The House of Commons, this threat being pitched as a possiblity for The Lords because of its holding the aces in it being able to delay Brexit and/or to embarrass The EU and Britian to boot; that this situation is not at all different to the young soccerplayer walking off with his ball in protest at a decision he did not like.

Lewis Carroll has his Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland roar out at every instance she feels herself thwarted: “Off with his head!” of the person who is held by her to be responsible for her being thwarted. Is this any better? I don’t think so.

Another instance of a Thomas moment in politics, they are all over the place – everywhere in fact – just like the little engines throng the Island of Sodor – might concern the Speaker of The House of Commons, a position to which a person is apointed to keep good order in The House and to apply parliamentary protocols to debates and to members’ behaviours; and this Thomas moment might concern events which occurred on the present Speaker’s watch this week; and these events were opened for dicsussion on this week’s The Sunday Politics.

The Speaker has to consider him or her self as being a neutral party; and thus to show no favour or prejudice against any Party or any Member in The House.

Now in Britain there is another new and populist game going on; whereby whenever over 100,000 signatures to an online petition are raised the issue of the petition becomes entitled to be raised and debated in parliament. As if one referendum wasn’t sufficiently a disaster that the MPs allow this other hostage to fortune (petitions ‘triggering’ House debates) to be welcomed in as ‘innovation’.

This petition arrangement is a sop, and sadly quite possibly it is felt by many MPs and citizens here to be ‘a real step forward in our democracy’ and because, as well as allowing ‘more public participation in government’, it is made possible only because it harnesses new means in using the gadgets and toys of the electronic age revolution.

You may be offput by my words being so slighting and so harshly condemning such an arrangement as these online petitions in the UK; please bear with me a little.

Donald Trump has been invited to make a State Visit to Britain by The Queen and by The Prime Minister here. A State Visit is more than just a visit; it means that the monarch here is one’s host and thus such a visit is the highest honour which is able to be made concerning any official visit to Britain and to the persons invited.

Very soon over 100,000 signatures, indeed many many more, were raised online against Trump’s State Visit and the House of Commons is now committed to debating the issue of Trump coming here on a State Visit. Thus one has a situation whereby the British Head of State, The Prime Minister, has issued an invitation to visit here to Donald Trump, and the government which that same Prime Minister leads, is now obliged to debate the wisdom or otherwise of that invitation having been made to Trump.

If this were not Fred Karno enough (Fred is not a Thomas engine) The Speaker of the Commons this last week when the issue of Trump’s visit was raised for debate in The House, failed to impose a quite well approved and longstanding rule of due respect and impartiality, when the members in The House generally applauded a speech of a member who was against Trump’s visit Applause is not considered allowable in the Houses of Commons or Lords. It is too partisan – I believe that’s the reason?

The Speaker himself, whose role was to asure there was no applause, began to clap his hands along with those whom he sits over and directs concerning House ettiquette. The Speaker excused others and himself by claiming an exception to the rule – claiming this occasion to be the exception which proves the rule – that an anti-Trump statement should be applauded in parliament.

One might ask oneself here; who guards the guardians? Certainly not the citzenry who got parliament into this mess of contradiction by their online petition in the first place.

Even The Fat Controller (American readers might know him as The Fat Director) in the Thomas stories bears in his conduct greater integrity than The House of Commons Speaker did this week.

When Engine Percy, a small and fairly simple engine, is picked out by the other engines to lead A Deputation to The Fat Controller over an issue the engines in general have with a diesel engine (diesels are generally dificult to get along with in Thomas stories) The Fat Controller in the first place notes to the engines that it is his railway and that mangement affairs are his affairs and not the engines’ affairs; that A Deputation is not something he approves. He is understanding however and sorts things for them.

Now you may fear I am advocating a dictatorship as the one on Sodor under the auspices of The Fat Controller. Not quite so. I am advocating that those engines, being as it were the epitomes of their main audiences; that is of young children, are best governed by a firm and a single hand; one which is fair and secure and safe and kind, but which makes boundaries and requirements for behaviour quite clear and straightforward.

The general anaology can be extended. Whenever people of any age are unable to make sound decisions; either in their own best interests or else for the general good; then a person or persons who are more able to do so might best be appointed to govern them. This then is the very idea and heart of representative government under democracy.

Children’s diets of entertainment are both fun for them and often, maybe mostly, also instructive; so as to help prepare them for an age of majority at which they will be called upon to make decisions wisely for themselves and for those around them whose care they are obliged to consider – for instance for their own children.

Adult diets of entertainment are rather less so educative and instructive in our society. Once a guy or girl leaves school here s/he is somehow considered by most other adults to be justified in metaphoricaly ‘tering up his/her schoolbooks’ and in forgetting all about becoming educated further.

Maybe educated in plumbing or in engineering or in hairdressing or in sales, since learning about these things brings them in income. As for a liberal improvementof the mind: most people have been so encouraged here that they would not be able to expalin the very phrase to you. Yet decisions on governing, when encoruaged to be made by those whose life experience is not conducive to the making of such decisions; this is sheer daftness.

It is true that few if any Prime Mimnisters or Presidents of Nations anywhere are younger than middle-aged. This is recognised to be appropriate by most people. Their rises to Heads of State have been usually long and slow and on the way much has had to be absorbed understood and mastered by them. (Trump might be on an extremely steep learning curve right now)

(Here we are in the UK on the verge of Brexit and in possession of close on an entirely new set of governming MPs than were in office before the Brexit referendum was held – the same political party as before governs however, but the non-Brexit mainstream guys and gals in it all had to exit when the result went against their wishes. Much of this near entire new body of MPs in high governing positions here now is inexperienced; hence there is here a tremendous uncertainty been generated about our futures. Much of this near entire new body has little clue about what to do in order to achieve Brexit; let alone how to get ta good deal from our ex EU partners for Britain as we exit. Much of this entire new body is in over its head. Poltics in my view above all things is an art of knowing how to do things; an art of high technique. Our technique is lacking in th epresent government because those with high skils in politics are no longer in positions from where they can exercise their skills.)

Bringing into play the whims (I use the word appropriately) of the citizenry in 100,000 plus signature petitions is crazy and compounds the current problems at issue. The Brexit Referendum showed this to be the case if anything has done.

Why indeed vote in representatives when one is able to put one’s own oar in anytime and spoil the show? Which is what our Thomas the Tank Engine citizens tend to do with their petitions and their incursions into hands-on government.

I am not a fan of government as we do it now. I am less a fan of government by online petitions. Representative Democracy is about the best deal we can have right now out of what appears practicaly possible at this moment. Even though as we have seen even parliament has its own ‘busy little engines’ buzzing around here and there, and out of good order. The collective concensus of reprresentative government is about our best shot presently. For the future, in another lifetime perhaps, something more graceful and more competent might become possible?

In a time when education does not mean training up children and young adults to be only workers; the fodder for the machines and the means of the entrepreneurs. In a time when a daring act of example and good will might hope to attempt at running a society on principles of universal kindness and toleration; on equitaable behaviours and on sacred truths of love and compasion.

The sad and tragic assumption of politics and of politicians across the board in our present ways of doing things is ever and always an assumption of ‘prepare for the worst – the worst kinds of people, the worst kinds of conduct’ and this policy stems from an attitutde which was originally nursed by fear and which once innured to itself embraced also distrust; and maybe in some politicians goes as far as expressing a cynical comtempt for humanity, an attitude based on the behaviours of humanity’s worst instances.

Of course such a prevailing asumption harbours a great mountain of hypocrisy – of the kind – ‘I don’t mean you, my friend, but only that so and so over there and that what’s his name here etc etc’, and yet necessarily so ‘my friend’ is tarred likewise with the same brush and sunk in the same oceans in the same sack with the same heavy rocks as is ‘so and so and what’s his name’. One size fits all.

In letting go of our wayward images of ourselves; of our self-regards; of our self-interests; of our self-ambitions; of all those thing we think we are and think we possess; only in this is freedom found and it is always and ever a freedom of and in love and to love and for love.

He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus”

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“Thou Good and Faithful Servant….”

 

I used to work in the private policing of counterfeiting and piracy in behalf of commercial companies. This work involved me in preparing notices for emailing to websites etc requesting them to remove offers for counterfeited and pirated copies of commercial items from public view and grasp.

Whilst I was in this line of work I came across a good quantity of correspondence had between the client companies I had been making the removal notices for; and a number of persons who were in fact informers on others who had been making illegal money in the business of counterfeiting and pirating the client company products and intellectual property.

When I first came across such informers and their written messages I had naively assumed that these informers were “Mr-Average-Concerned-Citizens”; people who had happened across a counterfeiter or a pirate and whose sense of civic duty had urged them to tell the owner-companies about these abuses.

Soon I was disabused of my naivete. Almost to a man – they were mostly men – the informers were a motley crowd of humanity whose motives were far from ‘pure’ for their‘grassing-up’ of their neighbours or of the guy down the road etc.

Almost to a man these informers were seen by me to be motivated by what might be termed low-minded ill-will. The person they were informing on was often disliked by the informant; they were sometimes informed upon so as for the informant to be able to settle a grudge he had against the counterfeiter; sometimes the informant just hated the person he informed on; and sometimes the informant himself was a counterfeiter whom by informing on others was attempting to kill off the competition in counterfeit selling in his own neck of the woods!

Honour among thieves is a fairytale.

Now this was not all. Many of these counterfeiters who had been informed upon eventually were apprehended by the police and brought to a court; usually before magistrate (a sheriff?) although the bigger fish usually found themselves before a judge.

Once caught apprehended charged and haled into court these offenders were almost without exception found guilty as charged. A few with canny lawyers got off – at least for a time because they got off only to go out and assuming their acquittal to be a passport, a carte blanche ticket, to go and continue from where they left off. They resumed selling counterfeits!. No ‘one bitten twice shy’ for them. The weird thing to me, I being I hope a rational sort of person, was that many, many, of these offenders made very little attempt to cover their tracks or to disguise their operations of counterfeiting. Not even after resuming after having been caught once!

Many would load up their vehicles with burnt CDs or memory sticks and travel around their county to the proprietors of businesses in that sector of industry to whom these memory sticks and CDs might present as being tempting to buy; and without a care, without a thought in their heads that it needed just a single upright businessman to ask them for their calling card and then send that calling card to the local police…….. The mind boggles!!

Even the counterfeiter guys who had been to court and had got off with a caution or walked free of charges; even these would not take any care to cover their tracks; not even after having been caught once and thus being now known as counterfeiters to the police!

In court however these guys would be astoundingly slippery. A guy in court for counterfeiting would quite often – usually at the behest of his lawyer – have gotten together a dossierfull of testimonials which he would submit to the court as ‘mitigations’- to be taken into consideration when he had been found guilty of his crimes and the sentence was awaiting to be weighed.

Now in the UK the law here allows a maximum sentence of ten years jail for intellectual property crime; the area of criminal law under which counterfeiting falls. This said, very very few counterfeiting offenders – I know of none – have gone to jail for anything like ten years – even the biggest fish caught.

Most guys found guilty of counterfeiting pay a fine and some reparations; maybe sometimes damages; and a few get nine months or at very most two years jail. Even the two years jail is over in ten or twelve months for an offender, when a prisoner ticks the right boxes for ‘good behaviour’ and for ‘showing remorse and reparations’.

These dossiers which the counterfeiters in court would have had compiled and at the behest of their lawyers to have filled them with testimonials to be taken into account as mitigation for the sentences to be passed on them; these dossiers would be dossiers carrying information such as: – the defendant has an elderly parent whom he cares for; or he has a chronically sick child whom he needs to be with; or he has recently lost his job and was at the time without other means to live; or he himself is chronically ill and so on and so on…..

The mitigations were most often extensive and voluminous for nearly every defendant; as if it were only that section of the British nation which has had the very worst luck in the world; or his family has; who go out and counterfeit and who get caught counterfeiting?

Thus are most counterfeiter criminals’ prison sentences not given. Sometimes even fines are waived or diminished to very little. Sometimes a guy would get a caution or otherwise be discharged of the offences altogether.

This pattern of events was widespread and frequent – so much so as to have impressed me as being the norm in many instances.

Now I am not concerned here about the law, the legal guilt of the offenders, whether they ought to have gone to prison, whether they got off lightly, or whether their appearances in court made any difference to anybody indeed. I am concerned here with the persons who travel this pattern and with them as being the type of that psyche which applies such a pattern to life in these kinds of instances.

It is the whole pattern I am concerned with here. The whole pattern – from the informing; and the travelling around openly offering for sale illicit goods; of not covering ones tracks; of being almost lame-headed in ones lack of foresight and perspicuity; of the lawyers’ acquiescence in the dossier making etc; and of the use by accused offenders of multiple claims for mitigations; of their often going often straight back out on the streets to do the same crimes in the same ways in the same areas with the same businesses again and again – the whole pattern beggars belief in my eyes.

It seems like something Dante might have recorded in his Inferno? A circle of no hope and of eternal punishment; going round and round and round. As the poet says:

“I see hordes of people going round in a ring.”

This pattern: what does it say to you about the minds, the outlooks, the world-views, the aspirations and the hopes and fears of such people – the counterfeiters? And moreover I fear there are certainly thousands, nay, tens or hundreds of thousands of human souls living in such a universe.

It makes me feel pity; feel angry; feel dismayed; and also a little bit incredulous -and dare I be honest – amused? I am not particularly proud of feeling amused but the pattern I’ve described does seem like it ought ot be fiction – some Samuel Beckett item or other?

My polar response to amusement and which I have sometimes to fight against is despair. That this is the lot – for the justice system and for those hauled before it – and probably extending across petty crime here in UK in general – the courtrooms and the defendants; the lawyers and the mitigations; are all a crushing indictment of how we live our lives today.

The criminality of it, the dreadfulness of it; in it’s totally ‘going nowhere-ness’; no aim, no object; a mere going through the motions; nothing to inspire or to uplift; only a sublime ignorance coming into contact with what appears to be a supreme indifference.

It is as though these people are ‘sleepwalkers’ moving through life; as though they are considered by the authorities ‘no hopers’ and that there is nothing to be done with them but to show them some leniency – for the sake of their ignorance, which is their whole mitigation. The lawyers acquiesce and condone and abet as if they too are ‘sleepwalkers’ to the cashpoints to count there their earnings for such charades. The whole is so very very sad and dispiriting to contemplate.

These offender guys seem generally as if throughout their lives they have been cast off by society; to be borne with and tolerated and just left to their own devices which are nothing substantial. Do the justices be lenient to them out of a sense of sheer guilt towards their defendants’ states of ignorance and entrapped half-lives? Or do they just want to get done and get home to their wives, a double scotch, and a dinner party with The Squires later in the evening?

I accept that our schools here have a tough job; that the home influence for young and growing children almost always, under the way we are doing things now, wins out over and above that ethos attempted to be cultivated at school. All the encouragement in the world, all the fine words and examples of good behaviour; the attempts at inculcating a sense of purpose or of higher thinking etc etc; all this is able to be negated absolutely by a homelife for a child which is abysmally deprived in culture and in nurture and in opportunity.

And this description of mine I fear describes too well too often what is the actual case for too, too, many of our children in Britain. Thus they grow up into effigies, carrying the mores and customs and all the heavy baggage of aimless entrappedness, of their own parents, those parents’ experience and what they are continuing to experience.

For all the talk and shows of concern by governments this has been our situation now throughout my life of over sixty years; an hereditary poverty of soul because of a lack of adequate nourishment for that soul.

But this is not to say things may not be different. There are tested and proven educational strategies which when employed will successfully open out, open up, children’s minds in school; but I fear our rulers see such strategies as too great a risk, too prone to exposing themselves to greater accountability; enabling to show to others the faces of their governors ‘warts and all’. See: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-24110905 and http://www.independent.co.uk/…/from-fail-to-world-s-best-a-…

Most of our politicians to a man and woman send their children unashamedly to a private, expensive, and essential-to high-success education; to schools like Eton and Harrow and Gordonstoune; The Merchant Taylors School; Cheltenham Ladies Colege; Marlborough; and their ilks and lookalikes. Most of our politicians to a man and a woman, and their families, use private healthcare rather than the British National Health Service which is free of charge to allcomers at the point of service. There are no queues when one goes for Private Medicine; and one is able to pay for operations and treatments not available to NHS patients – or else on the NHS one is having to have a huge wait – and often fatal.

Now; that part of our national government which is formed of elected representatives, which is the House of Commons, the legislative House of Parliament, which carries most of the political power; this body of politicians I believe at present possess more or less zero personal interest or emotional stake in these two great pillars of our society and community; the taxpayer/government funded education system for children; and the taxpayer/government funded NHS (National Health Service).

These politicians’ children take no part in the state run education system; these politicians and their families take no part in being cared for medically by the NHS. Nil, zero, no, personal stakes in these foundational British welfare institutions at all. Yet they govern them both; and are entrusted by us as our elected representatives to maintain them and to make them effective and fit for purpose.

In Ancient Athens, the birthplace of what we so proudly and with so much bad faith wear on our sleeves as the defining badge of our civilisation: our democracy; in Athens were laws which insisted that the Citizens (males only unfortunately) of adult age to attend and to take a full part in civic and political activities and legislative work – i.e. government. Citizens likewise were expected to arm themselves, at their own expense, and to defend their city state from military attack. All without outward force or coercions being applied – but conducted and conduced wholly by cultivation of the ethos of such obligations in the minds of citizens.

That great man Socrates, Athenian citizen par excellence) who was (unjustly) condemned to death by his fellows at a court hearing, was offered by his friends a route to escape the death penalty by him fleeing to a neighbouring City State. His friends would see to it for him. Yet he refused and accepted instead the cup of hemlock to drink which poisoned him at the city’s command. His rationale for accepting death from his fellows and from his native city and its laws, was that Athens had been his protector and provider for all of his seventy years; and that this being so the city had a claim upon him, even unto death. It was in short a reasoned loyalty and an acceptance of a due course of civic action and obligation. Not soppy. Not silly. Not sentimental. Reasoned out as being the proper thing which ought to be done by Socrates.

Now our politicians are not even happy, nor to willing to put their children through the state school system which they are in charge of and manage in our behalves. Nor are they happy to, willing to use the NHS which is in place so as to provide for all citizens and which they are in charge of and so manage in our behalves.

I declare here that I believe that it is right and proper that all members of The House of Commons should by order be obliged to use the state school education system for their children’s education; and that they and their families should by order be obliged to use only the NHS for their health treatments.

There was an old slogan used by the British colonists in America; one which helped lead up to American Independence from Britain. It was a wise and a proper slogan which has endured because of its truth; it says: ‘no taxation without representation.’ Similarly here likewise there should be in regard to their management of the NHS, and of the state school system, here in Britain, by our politicians ‘no representation without participation’ .

How can a bunch of people with zero practical stake in such passionately important things be allowed to run them in others’ behalves? Surely they are laughing up their sleeves. For all the high claims of duty and large compassion and of full engagement of the heart in these affairs which every politician of any colouring will resort to claiming in their defence for themselves; it remains as Shakespeare says: Fine words butter no parsnips’; and it would be absolutely certain there would be more, much nearer to total, engagement with the issues and concern for the problems which the NHS and the state school system are suffering were these politicians’ high-minded compassion tested and proved by an actual and a real practical stake in these institutions’ and their futures.

Is this going to happen? Probably not. The British put up with an Established Church and with a Monarchy; both of which are political props – in every sense of that word – and which serve thoroughly to muddy the waters for church affairs and for political issues here. We are hidebound by tradition; by good form; and by our nebulous ragbag of an unwritten constitution; which is able to and is called upon as an excuse and/or a justification by every and any Tom Dick and Harry in Parliament and used on any issue. Fudge; faze; and procrastinate is our way – because the people here for the most part are being kept in a dark cellar of ignorant cultural deprivation as if they were in a tank ten feet underwater.

 

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Centres of Attention

Among social circles there are generally always Centres of Attention. They might be individual persons; or a team; or they might be an activity; an event; a programme; a hobby or an interest; there are always focal points on which human attention is directed and concentrated.

In the newspapers and on TV and Radio there are topical issues which are focal points for the time being. Focal points which are held up by media as the points of interest at the present time. Someone, somewhere, perhaps editors or programme producers; are the persons who make such calls, such judgements; on what is or is not topical and as they say ‘in, or else not in, the public interest’. Thus for those of us who seek to keep abreast of ‘what is going on’ and who stay loyal to traditional media in order to discover this; we are placing our faith and trust and commitment of faith in these persons who have in their power carte blanche to set agendas for us for news, views, and issues.

I say carte blanche because yes, something like a human tragedy of momentous size of course has the primary place in all such agendas on the day it occurs; and regardless of other news. There remains however a large tranche of news which is to be weighed for its newsworthiness or otherwise by such arbiters of what we are to hear or read in their media outlets.

These persons are self-appointed; in that they have risen up through their organisations to the positions in which they balance and weigh these decisions of theirs; to positions which have power to make or else not make the news, the views, the issues.

In a democracy what other way of appointing such arbiters migh there be which might be considered more suitable?

Yet it remains that what is selected as worthy to run with as news etc; by its very nature affects the news agenda in the same way any other human choice affects a situation; that is, once a story or a view or an issue is ruled in as being sufficiently newsworthy to run with; some other issues stories etc have necessarily to be ruled out, unless more space or time is allowed the media agenda as a whole.

Of course none of us is wise enough always to get it right – what is the definitive news on any given day; because for instance some stories might be dropped which inadvertently and without warning might later ‘blow-up’ into huge items and issues. The emergence of Ebola virus a year or two back was such a story which suddenly ‘took off’ in the news only some time after the virus itself was known to have been quite virulently infectious and going from human to human by close proxinity and by contact.

How does an ordinary person discover whether a news and views media outlet is ‘doing reasonably well’ in its role of supplying her or him the stuff which is the real Macoy and in not missing tricks by not supplying stories and views which would have been crucial for her/him to have known something about?

The selectors of what goes into or does not go into our in-common news and views agendas are entrusted with an autocratic power by the citizens who read and listen to what they say with a good faith; and it is an huge power to have at one’s fingertips.

I do not know but I do believe that there is no published statement by these arbiters of news and views on the criteria they each assume and by which they presume to select news and views to broadcast or to publish. The guy or gal or is it guys or gals behind the scenes at the BBC for instance and whose job it is to select what are to be the news headlines of the day or of the hour and the pecking-order of that same batch of newsworthy headline stories; such persons are anonymous and backroom; we do not know their names, nor their provenances; their sources; the principles upon which they sift stories which come onto their desks during the day and night and day after day. All of this inside-knowledge is dark to an ordinary listener of say BBC News bulletins; and so what an enormous act of almost blind faith that ordinary listener is placing in that set of persons. It’s ‘Auntie’ BBC after all, and maybe for many listeners and viewers the questionmarks hanging over these news stories and their presentation to us are never conscious in the mind or raised therein as reasonable questions.

The exact case applies equally to newspapers and to other news and views and issues outlets and publications; although we as persons will gravitate towards those outlets and publishers whose comment and stories are most sympathetic to our own views and concerns. And is not this the principle of human interest at work in fact; that persons accessing news and views media gravitate to the stories and views they most prefer to listen to and read?

But here we are then in a cleft stick. Because:

a) If we hear and read only what we want to hear and read are we getting anything like truth?
b) Are we being reinforced in our views and so encouraged to become entrenched in them to an exclusion of holding a more liberal balance
c) Who is pulling and pushing who?
i) The news and views outlet is pulling and pushing its readers/listeners – telling them what to think?
ii) The readers and listeners are the ones pulling and pushing the news and views media?

(Of course, with c) it’s a feedback loop going on; the pulling and pushing done by the media outlet can only go as far as the the loyalites and views of their readerships/listeners will accept before these audiences will walk away from that media outlet. The pulling and pushing done by the listeners/readers can only go so far because so much of the information they receive from their media outlets is in the hands of the media outlets to provide as they see fit to their listeners/readers; their audiences. Knowledge is power and lack of knowledge is lack of power. The newsy part of any publication/braodcast; that which is the generally agreed upon by all media outlets as being ‘the facts’; which occur at the root source of the news story and embellisment is published around it; this ‘the facts’ is in the first place only in the hands of the media outlets; and it is their privilige and prerogative, assumed and not earned or endowed, to spin it into stories which attempt so they would say to ‘explain’ ‘the facts’.)

Thus any relationship between a reader/listener and his/her chosen media outlet is always going to be inherently unequal; the media outlet always holding the Ace cards of information and of opportunity to add an angle to that information. The listener/reader has a simple choice; believe it or not; walk or stay faithful to your media outlets.

I have worked with a friend of mine who is a software developer over a course of close on ten years now; and together he and I have seen come and go all sorts of client customers who are wanting him to write software for them. Almost to a man (and woman) every client the two of us have worked with has been a relationship in which my friend the developer has ever ben firefighting so as to try has hard as he can (and I hope with my help) to keep relations at or to bring relations back to an equitable footing.

Simply put: in his busines the client has the money and the developer has the skills; the client has a choice which developer s/he opts for; the developer very often has far less choice about turning down works than does a client to go elsewhere. The client to a man (woman) will near always want to dictate the terms of any written agreement that might be drawn up. Most often the asumption of a client is that s/he has in some way bought the developer, and that the developer should be and act always at a client’s behest whatever happens – until of course soemthing goes wrong at which time the client will swiftly and without conscience, wash his/her hands utterly of holding the reins in the relationship. The client always wants control; and s/he always wants more than a mere number of hours of good quality work done time-efficiently.

Likewise the relationship of the listener/reader with the media outlet is also unequal. Not only are listeners/readers not given a general statement of principles and values (which on its own would be useless unless practiced by them, but at least discerning people would be able to judge whether media outlets live up to their own standards); in addition readers/listeners are to a greater or lesser degree ‘captive audiences’ – in that they have nowhere else – other than another outlet of the same ilk – from which to get their news and views. News is always all a one way traffic. Fed ‘downwards’ towards the listening/reading public. There are very limited interractions between the two parties elsewise than paying for a newspaper or else for a TV license. A letters page or a half hour weekly show. That’s it.

And I am absolutley convinced that unequal relationships between adults are ever a recipe for evils to creep in. When one person has power over another, the temptation to ride roughshod may not be succumbed to at first; but as the relationship progresses the prospect becomes ever more likely. This is because relationships of this order naturally deteriorate; and persons in them gradually come to distrust and to slight one another, until little good faith is left between them.

The governing engine of this inevitable deterioration is usually (in development work) the abyss which is always there between the clients’ busines goals and the developer’s professional and technical aims and necessities. In media outlets the governing engine of decline is perhaps the daily reinforcement of that perception held by them of the ease with which such outlets are able to sway and alter their audiences’ minds and views and so bat them around like puppets. Any media outlet would raise a great howl of angry protest at me for saying so; but yet their supposed principles are indeed corroded and made inefectual by their (mis)understandings of whom they might be in the wolld and of their assumed status and importance for themselves.

Indeed there is no evidence I can see of Christian Service in their attitudes; none of them show themselves as acting in any way which gives an impression that they are trying to be ‘the servant of all’ and so be the least person in the relationships they cultivate with their audiences. Instead we see them ‘Lord it over the people like the Gentiles do’ and so they become knowing and reputed as ‘pundits’ and ‘names to be reckoned with’ – on TV and Radio and in the newspapers. This of course is the hallowed career path and trajectory; which is again an application of the principle of self-interest; which in our world is considered a reasonable personal aspiration.

Yet the isssues of human interest and of self-interest are pretty much synonymous in the vocabularies of our media outlets. A large part of the puppetry played upon the ordinary citizen, the string -pulling, by the media outlets is now, and has become so over the past thirty or so years, possible because of that slide in which these media have colluded iand which coalesces, elides, self-interest with human interest and as all the news and all the views and all the issues.

Ours has become a society wherein it is wholly and soley acceptable, legitimate, encouraged, colluded in and condoned; that one as an individual; as a family; as a group; may with all justification consider one’s own interest entirely and exclusively as one’s proper field of concern and scope of action in one’s life. Never before has so much encouragement of the ordinary person to ‘look after number one’ exclusively and utterly been propagated and force fed to a people.

The media outlets have played no small part in this state of affairs becoming actual , and thus to be our burden to bear; our legacy; and the cause of our present and ensuing decline as a people and as a nation; as a democracy and primarily as a country once honoured to believe itself based on Christian principles.

One expects the business community to offer “sweeties and toys” to their publics, their customers, so as to get them to buy their goods and services. These are the lures of Mammon. Public Service bodies, which media outlets are, whether they are in private or in public hands, have less reason to chase after Mammon upon a spree for riches; and they also presume to have standards which are upright and ethical. Yet that ugly and despicable ingratiation-with-their-readerships/audiences which bears a hidden ‘sugaring of pills’ for covert use in ‘social engineering’; all this has been aimed at turning us British into a nation comfortable with overmany self-assured knowing-best, crowd-pleasing media outlets.

 

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Pharmaceutical Recital

Shopping’s an illness,
The pharmacies have not yet diagnosed
A patent remedy for,
Though
There’s no doubt

A concoction with a sheet of close instructions
Enclosed explaining reams of side-effects
Prognoses for main symptoms the potions counteract
Shall also be displayed with usual warnings
In thin red text emboldened like a shot of blood
Which state before you take a dose you might survey
Whether your mother handled fading pink carnations
Around the house in ‘82 or father kept
A goat originating from the Farne or Scilly Isles;
And if so halt: beware! beware!: lookout!:

Consult your scrying glass call NHS Direct
Offer your Patient Number up that so by this
Computer light might bring for scrutiny
To a tired nurse eyes what lifetime history
Of aliments, injuries and medications
Had you your family, and all of your relations
Receding back to ‘53 where records stop
When counting backwards

An incidence of shopping burgeons; it’s endemic
Contagious; and prognosticates incurable
Only to be well-managed by a strict austere regime;
Emollients downed three times a day and after deals
Are closed, once things are safely in the bag; such fare
Will kill the cravings overnight and dispose sleeps
So dreamless they will carry through till day,
The lean small hours, one safe without withdrawal
Wreaking its toll

These smart designer tablets somewhat sugared, somewhat sour,
Are sour to be convincing that indeed
Here’s medicine with powers to do the needful task
The sugar serves up cheaply added pap
Masking the pasty tastes and plumping waists
An additive concessionary; and sheer waste

The shopping yet goes on however; yes, one need not fret
That such an avid pastime might be sorely lost
The treatment like the sickness by an astute behest
Made up by persons paid for fabrications
That dignify with comfort’s consolations
And justify with invalid excuse
The urgent expeditions of intention –
One feels the fit come on, and onward shoots
And lo, before it’s known, the storefronts shimmer
The mind wide-eyed is like Cody to the saddle
And leaps to ride the horsepower after baubles
To wear so fair

And thus another product’s serviced from the factory lines
Another route for profits sorted nonetheless
What anybody benefits who buys such guff
Evacuated blatantly by otiose marketers
Such wastrel freeloaders, whose lies incline,
To ride cahoots and trade on blithe distinctions,
Their science and their bald integrities,
Fat company rewards for falsehood’s fellow-travellers

Sold to the highest bidder goes this Noble Prize
For services to medical chicanery
Here is a guy who trickstered half a hemisphere
On homespun wiles
Peddling a false uneasiness by shady schemes
The layman public trusting in his wise receipts;
Pushing out mere confections mere designer-gear deceits
Upon sham afflictions
An entry in who’s-who ensigns accomplishments
Of such as he withal; magna cum laude
The blazons of such din vibrate around the global curve
Sideways, by mates

The Children of the State

“One evening when a young gentleman teized him with an account of the infidelity of his servant, who, he said, would not believe the scriptures, because he could not read them in the original tongues, and be sure that they were not invented, ‘Why, foolish fellow, (said Johnson,) has he any better authority for almost every thing that he believes?’ BOSWELL. ‘Then the vulgar, Sir, never can know they are right, but must submit themselves to the learned.’ JOHNSON. ‘To be sure, Sir. The vulgar are the children of the State, and must be taught like children.’ BOSWELL. ‘Then, Sir, a poor Turk must be a Mahometan, just as a poor Englishman must be a Christian?’ JOHNSON. ‘Why, yes, Sir; and what then? This now is such stuff as I used to talk to my mother, when I first began to think myself a clever fellow; and she ought to have whipt me for it.”

http://www.classic-literature.co.uk/scottish-authors/james-boswell/life-of-johnson-abridged/ebook-page-64.asp

This is perhaps one area where Samuel Johnson and I fall out with one another? Perhaps?  The idea that, as Johnson calls them, ‘the vulgar’ are ‘The Children of the State’; of whom he has said elsewhere in so many words that the analogy between natural parents and their young offspring holds good; is a politically and theologically disturbing one; for Johnson extrapolates on it to a logical conclusion that:

 Consider, Sir; if you have children whom you wish to educate in the principles of the Church of England, and there comes a Quaker who tries to pervert them to his principles, you would drive away the Quaker. You would not trust to the predomination of right, which you believe is in your opinions; you would keep wrong out of their heads. Now the vulgar are the children of the State. If any one attempts to teach them doctrines contrary to what the State approves, the magistrate may and ought to restrain him.’

http://www.classic-literature.co.uk/scottish-authors/james-boswell/life-of-johnson-abridged/ebook-page-211.asp  

These statements of Johnson’s, if accepted by one as possibly valid, throw open to question the whole notion of political democracy; and worse; of Salvation for those he classifies as ‘Children of the State’ i.e. ‘the vulgar’. For Johnson says, when you read him above, that even a person whom one believes has the wrong faith for him to be Saved has to be let alone to stay with that faith when such a person is one of ‘the vulgar’; whether Quaker or Muslim in Johnson’s instances which he offers us.

This means in my own interpretation of it that a person of ‘the vulgar’ must be left alone to believe what The State directs him to believe; even though his immortal soul might depend for its Salvation on him not being left entirely to the custody of The State.  This I find very hard to accept.

Politically, and less alarmingly, but yet still alarming, are the consequences for a liberal democracy were Johnson’s views shown to be valid.  Such a referendum result as we in the UK have just suffered, were these circumstances of Johnson’s to be valid, have given an invalid result; because Johnson is saying, if I have him right, that ‘the vulgar’ are not fit to hold a vote.

Essentially we need to know who these ‘vulgar’ might be; what characterises them to the extent that they can be identified by us within society?  Once we have these ‘vulgar’ identified, and come to understand them as being in effect wards of The State; we can discuss some of the merits and demerits of Johnson’s politics and theology.

Johnson tells us that the ‘vulgar’ are to be – as it were – spoon-fed their beliefs by The State; according to the general status quo of popular understanding and of contemporary views in the relevant eras.  He may have agreed to the idea that to try to enlighten them any further was not only ‘casting pearls before swine’ but also inciting public disturbance and even insurrection from them.  The fear of insurrection, of what contemporaries called ‘the mob’ uprising, was always a nagging worry even in Johnson’s day; but perhaps more especially so it is found in Dickens, and because of the horrors of ‘vulgar’ life under the terrible urban conditions imposed upon it by the early stages radical social dislocation in what we call now The Industrial Revolution.

In Dickens’s day as well as in Johnson’s this ‘mob’ was more or less wholly uneducated; none of them attended any kind of school; consequently their ideas of the world and of their society were vague and primitive for the most part. They had few if any ‘manners’ or ‘nurture of the heart’ except what nature endowed them with.  This factor concerning lack of education comprises a large difference between whom we today might consider ‘the vulgar’ to be, and those who were termed ‘the vulgar’ by Johnson.

The Education Act of 1870 brought the first universal education to British children; by this time Dickens was an old man and Johnson had been dead a century.

I believe this fact and difference of universal education at the very least ‘waters-down’ somewhat Johnson’s strictures about ‘the vulgar’ and their proper place in life; and in regard to how things stand in our democracy of today.  But yet no thinking Briton is able to deny that some, perhaps much, of the apparatus of The State even today is brought to bear upon our ‘neo-vulgar’ in such a way as to have effects very like as those which Johnson describes they ought to have; today then, so many of us yet remain effectually and de facto ‘Children of the State’.

The question remains whether this is as it should be; and to whatever decision we come, yea or nay, involves very serious practical considerations about the events of 2016 in Britain; The Year of Brexit.

This is because, as I have hinted already; were one a hard-liner Tory of today; the type who hankered for ‘a return of Sovereignty’ and for ‘freedom from Brussels’’ bureaucrats’; you are very likely to side with Johnson heavily in the matter of ‘the vulgar’ being properly the wards of The State. Thus one’s own political beliefs would have invalidated for oneself the result of the Referendum which turned the tide in your favour.  For one does not believe that ‘the mob, the vulgar’ are in principle eligible to vote responsibly since they are not capable of being anything better than wards, than children, of The State.  They carry for you only the status and the political rights and acumen of minors.  Johnson is pretty clear on this point.

Yet had The State of Britain, in deed and in word, honoured the spirit of its much-hallowed, much-vaunted, liberal democracy and had attempted to educate ‘the mob’ and ‘the vulgar’ to a station whereupon they might have acquired enough acumen and experience and so political right and adulthood that they were capable of voting authentically; I would wager that in these circumstances almost certainly Brexit would never have occurred.  Without any doubt in my mind I say that The Tories are the main culprits for this omission and dereliction of duty to their ‘charges’; although The Labour Party, when in power, has done less than it could have done also.

Of course my remarks betray that I believe that ‘the mob’ and ‘the vulgar’ should have had, should yet have, at least the same opportunities as the Establishment and its fellow-travellers to a liberal – emphasis on liberal – education; one which aims to free them of Blakean ‘mind-forged manacles’ whose keys rest tightly clasped in the hands of upper class and educated Britons.

There is empirical evidence that such an education to ‘the mob’ is able to be had and to be applied to the ordinary ‘vulgar’ – people such as you and I. See this story of a ‘failing’ school – by School Inspectorate standards – one year – and rated ‘excellent’ – by the same the body following year; a school in London’s inner city in the notorious East End (Tower Hamlets); see how it was turned around quickly and brilliantly by application of some radical schooling under the leadership of Headmistress Wendy Hick

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/from-fail-to-world-s-best-a-lesson-from-the-east-end-8996454.htm

(It is worth delving further to see the almost Socratic dialogue method and inspiration of her style)

Had The Tories and other governments over the years ‘tried harder’ (this being my summary entry on their school reports) at education, instead trying exclusively to ‘fit for employment’ – and I might add – for employers – and had offered better, more aspirational, treatment for all of us – then Brexit would never have occurred.

But the political lesson remains clear – an old chestnut but worth reiterating –  whether one is of a ‘vulgar mob’ or an educated democrat – and it is that the Tories once again whichever way they jump remain hypocrites in this respect as in so, so, much else.

That dreadful and unworthy of the name; that travesty and parody, and mockery of a debate which characterised the Brexit referendum run-up and vote; on both sides, no excuses either way; would not have been palatable to an aware ‘vulgar mob’; but it was a success for the Leavers simply because it was so banal, so repetitive, like a steam-hammer, full of sprats catching mackerel; and bluntly it was fundamentally wrong because lies and it was persistently kept dumbed-down deliberately; so as for it to be sure of hooking by visceral means an uneducated and pandered to, manipulated, and largely visceral greater public.

As for theology – are we Calvinists? Are we of the persuasion of that Justified Sinner of Ettrick Shepherd fame? Are we Antinomians all?  Are we the people and wisdom will die with us?  And the rest the dross the lees among us is that seed which fell on stony ground?  Have we the gall to claim for ourselves Salvation because we have understanding and discernment and are able to discriminate; whereas that ‘vulgar mob’ which has by necessity to slot into the groove or the rut of the status quo and though looking never see, though listening never hear, because incapable of seeing, and deaf to appeals, and impervious to any of that sweetness and light of a higher calling?

Is this your average staunch hard-line Tory’s outlook? It certainly follows that it ought to be from what I have laid out here so far. (I have little doubt that such Tory people in general despise in their hearts the common ‘vulgar’; and that they cannot do otherwise. I also believe that Cameron’s jolly cavalier dismissal of his gaffs about pasties and about Aston Villa – laughing them off and laughing thereby at that ‘vulgar mob’ he’d hoped to deceive and mislead to thinking that he was a ‘good guy and one of us’; I firmly believe that here is a Tory moderate who was content to show his contempt for the common people and to do so publicly before TV cameras and shown across the nation; and yet not a ripple of trenchant comeback from the great 4th estate

Had it been Corbyn – and I am indeed no friend of Corbyn – it could have forced him out of office were he to have show similar such disdainful behaviour to the greater electorate. Brown had received his death sentence over less – and at least Brown was being genuine, true to his heart, when he called that woman a bigot; and he probably had half a case to call her such if not more.

Indeed the Establishment is able to get away scot free with so much handy dandy and legerdemain, exactly because it finds it so easy to palm-off its contempt for its vassals and to wind these ‘vulgar’ around their fingers with promises never yet made in their hearts and so broken by them before ever being publicly pledged.

And this is where we have come to; at the close of 2016.  The fruits of that policy which has maintained, whether rightly or wrongly; truly or falsely; that the ‘vulgar mob’ will always be The Children, and the wards, of The State; and as such unenligtenable – and to boot and worse – irredeemable before God – such a policy has over a generation or more brought forth bitter, bitter fruit, which we are all now beginning to taste as our daily diets and we shall be continuing to do so for a foreseeable future.

Both sides, the moderate Cameronians and the jackbooted Eton/Oxbridge Luddites, hardly masterminds any, of Brexit; each believed they were capable of ‘playing all the stops’ on the mental equipment of the ‘vulgar mob’ so as to win their case by referendum. On this basis Cameron called his referendum – a great mistake – ‘events, dear boy, events’.  Yes ‘time and chance happeneth to all’ and the wildcard ‘immigration’ was played as a final trump card – as that ‘card that is so high and wild you’ll never need another’ – by the sordid clique seeking power over Britain and all to their egoistic, self-serving selves; and thus the game was up.

‘Oh, what a tangled web we weave
When first we practice to deceive’

You can also find this article at our steemit blog: https://steemit.com/education/@matthew.raymer/the-children-of-the-state

The Nature of History

 

Once again I turn to a TV show; and again to the show ‘Digging for Britain’’ the archaeology show presented by a person named Professor Alice Roberts. Alice Roberts in her show continuously uses a phrase which for me begs many questions: the phrase is: ‘we are changing history’ or else ‘our recent digs have changed our history.’

Now for a professor to say this sort of thing; repeatedly, even on an entertainment TV show, which might not demand the levels of rigorous presentation that an academic paper might; and for Alice Roberts’ to be insistent on repeatedly using the terms; and to the exclusion of any other more elaborate form of words; it puzzles me not a little.

Would it have been pedantic for her to have said instead; ‘We are changing our understanding of history’?  Or else ‘our recent digs have altered our interpretation of history’? Or is there something more, something more ideological behind her insistence on her profession being said to be capable of ‘changing history’?

My own understanding is that history is the past; more specifically perhaps, the past for that period of time during which human beings have existed; and before this time comes the period we call pre-history. That sounds and seems straightforward enough.

This history I understand is ‘what happened’ or those ‘events’ and ‘thoughts’ and ‘words’ and ‘art’ etcetera which occurred in the past; and as such it is a fixed and immutable thing; a thing done and dusted and unable to be altered in any way.

“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

This position I am speaking of is the traditional conception of history; that it is a fixed and rigid object of study for interpretation.

Of course, since time immemorial and even recently, and probably yet today and tomorrow; we see history being deliberately perverted from what we might call loosely ‘known truth’.  For instance The Hebrew Bible had its redactors very early on in man’s history; redactors who ‘customised’ a loose collection of stories and narratives about The Patriarchs and about Human and Earth Origins; so as to forge them into a more continuous narrative which carries a philosophy and a thread of didacticism.

The Soviets during the 20th Century were renowned for ‘changing history’ by perverting the facts or even altering them completely, as far as these were known and agreed on by more impartial entities, so that ‘things happened’ which did not happen and ‘things did not happen’ which did happen in their official history books and lessons.  Uncomfortable things and events were erased and more comfortable ones inserted.  Lenin in particular was a secular Father of Lies; brother to Beelzebub.

I wrote very recently about the First World War and about the political ideological battles which are still being fought here in Britain to reclaim that horror for party and for factional propaganda purposes – Yet another struggle to master the people by way of overmastering history’s popular narratives.

And so at worst historical interpretation has been and continues to be abused for ulterior and expedient purposes by those factions whose axes to grind are whetted and sharpened on propagandas.

Apart from this deliberate bending of our attempts at rendering historical truth, there are historians who simply err. The honourable and eminent historian Hugh Trevor Roper; an expert on Nazi Germany; whose small book ‘The Last Days of Hitler’ is a remarkable read; was himself led on by a clever but disgraceful forgery of what were known at the time as The Hitler Diaries. His hard-won reputation was shredded to tatters by his mistaken public backing for what transpired to be an utter fabrication and forgery.  Unfortunate; but the press and media are unforgiving in these cases and take a marvellous delight in destroying people for public consumption.

Yet apart from errors and blunders, and perversions for axe grindings; there has always been thought to be since Thucydides wrote on The Peloponnesian War and onwards; a body of men and women whose aims and motives for writing history books etc were true and unsullied by party or faction.  Of course, none of them have written exactly ‘true’ history; and all had their pet hates and their favourites and flavours of the month to cherish in their interpretations of the history they chose to interpret.  But yet within a given and an acceptable at the time spectrum of consideration; their historical works were not filled with views which were ‘beyond the pale’.

And so by its very nature the study of history is not an exact science; in universities it is generally taught as an art under a faculty know as The Humanities; thus its element of subjectivity is borne witness to by is classification within colleges. So what is this phraseology ‘changing history’ and ‘recent archaeology having power to change history’; what might it signify and why is it used so insistently and exclusively to all other attempts to speak more accurately about the nature of historical research?   I cannot help but think it is deliberate in Professor Alice Roberts that she always uses such forms of words on TV.

Of course there is a simple ‘vanity’ interpretation for her motives; that she is aiming to ‘simplify’ for a ‘popular audience;’ and thereby simultaneously she is able to claim a great deal of ’kudos’ and ‘power’ for her profession; which she claims is capable of ‘changing history’ itself. This motivation would be human but not one of great academic rigor. Let it be said here that Alice Roberts is one of the new academics whose careers are as much about show business as they are study and research; that she has a TV following and a reputation to nurture and so there is greater pressure upon her and her colleagues of her ilk to play the part in which she is cast – as celebrity. Thus to ‘pep up’ things a little with some ‘economising on truth’ is maybe permissible for her when she lets down her hair in her TV magazine shows?  Others of her kind do it.  Led by an inveigling vanity.

Or is it more serious than this; if this were not serious enough?  Is it a planned approach; for after all she never uses any other forms of words to state the nature of historical narrative?  Is it yet another attempt by the post modern academics to whom she allies herself, to force a sharp break from the past, from the dusty Victorian ‘liberal’ historians whose insistence was on a fixed immutable history upon which their minds played to interpret what might have gone on to their best ability and persuasion?  Is it part of a concerted campaign being waged nowadays to try to force and foist cherished philosophical agendas on a receptive public; thus it is a grab for power and influence and for claiming MY version of the world to be true above all?

Possibly; and indeed I do not dismiss the likelihood, having seen many programmes labelled as history on TV being in fact a torrent of private agendas and sometimes of pathological hang-ups.

What might such a philosophical agenda be that claims for itself that human beings are capable of actually ‘creating history’ creating the real thing, the events and the contemporary ideas and words which indubitably went on in former ages; by means of digging up old relics or by study and research of documents and records?  It seems to deny philosophically the possibility of there being such a thing as an objective human past as a basis for present day human researchers to study and interpret.

Put crudely, and at its most ludicrous extremity, it begs the question whether an event such as The Battle of Marathon was actually fought; whether Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo; whether Louis XIV was an Absolutist ruler, and so on; ideas and conclusions almost universally accepted and uncontroversial in the world of historians.

If it were for these kinds of aim that the utter and absolute subjectivity of history, in its very deeds and words which actually happened, which is the philosophical position being maintained by Alice Roberts and her ilk, it may be that the position is being maintained etc so that she and her ilk are thus enabled to call into question a greater field of what has traditionally been settled as uncontroversial history?

This itself might seem innocuous; say whether Nelson said ‘Kismet’ or ‘kiss me’ to Hardy; or else whether it’s just a story accrued around a prominent man etc; but yet its logical extension allows and justifies historians to alter the fixed and actual story of history as it were legitimately – by creating history anew out of nothing – not creating its interpretation but the deeds and words of actual history – wholly anew, thus the moving finger is now enabled lawfully to ‘cancel half a line’ and to ‘wash out a word’.  The key word here is ‘legitimately’ or ‘lawfully’, were such a philosophical position on history to be adopted as being the new status quo –  Carte blanche for historians to fictionalise objective history totally.

I do not believe Alice Roberts and her colleagues use the forms of words they use out of slackness and imprecision.  I do believe they are attempting to change the agendas of the persons who view their shows.  I do not believe they are familiar with philosophy and I believe they have not thought through the folly of the campaign they are waging.

I believe they are slick smart but enamoured of vanity persons who see their day has come; and that the joys and the visceral satisfactions in wielding power; together with a naïve belief in the ubiquity of the range and consequence of their specialist subjects, and in those subjects’ outcomes for the present age; are all far beyond and far removed from objective actuality and from sober reflection. (Possibly these new academics do not even recognise such an objective actuality? If so, what bedrock then do they base their own conclusions upon?)  Like so many today; even, maybe especially, in academic life, who have liberated themselves by throwing away the heritage of the past ideologically-speaking, trashing those hard won foundations on which we attempt as humans to establish our structures approximating to truth; Alice Roberts and her like are in these things profoundly ignorant and benighted.

Her phraseology; her philosophy; gives succour to the Holocaust Deniers; to the Suicide Bombers; to the Post-Truth Politics of our times; even though I doubt she sees this is so. Nor do I accuse her and her ilk of such things herself but only of being silly to an extent that they really ought to read up some Bible and so grab some ballast, true ballast for their lives.  The Bible being perhaps the most conspicuous one single item not in their tote bags; it having been ‘sidelined’ and ‘slighted’ as being a ‘light thing’ by that new-in-the-making history that actually changes actual world events, as if these new academics themselves were God, and busy creating.

 

You can also find this article at our anomalist design blog: https://steemit.com/history/@matthew.raymer/the-nature-of-history

Some Christmas Aphorisms

Genius/Madness?

Nietzsche’s said:
Stormed; ‘God is dead!’
(Went off his head)

Mammon vs God

The Christ Adversary
Is the nursery
That raised cupidity

Ambition vs Temperance

Rich men’s brains
Chock-full of gains
Allow no reins

Commerce

Walking the malls
Consumes enthrals
Blockheads and fools

Freedom under Law

Head-swollen elites
Swaggering their feats
Oppress; increase

Starbucks

The ardent achievers
Are passionate reivers
At rendering Caesar’s

Smartarses

Hume mocked faith
Through his carafe
Though quite naïve

USA

Crazy Top Trumps
Working the pumps
Lest the ship bumps

Brexit

Sold down the Thames
By Boris and friends
And their sty-pens

Xenophobics

A noble Ms. Merkle
Is suited in purple
There vultures circle

Complacency

Comfort is blind
And ease closes minds
Nor evil divines

Regeneration

To riches is loss
Sometimes a resource
A kind sort of cross

Candy-crunch

Here
Are the children the sweetshop owners cheated
Crunch, go their brittle candies, crack!
On teeth, dividing into splinters: ching!
Let the money changers hands serve out
Their clever weighing skills

Inimitably working, amiably, conjuring coins:
Fair washday words, dumb-show in slight gambols
Which elevate the dance of twisted knowing
Incontinent of step, a turn possessed, they crow
Throwing up croooked shadow shapes flickering the walls;
Content to advise
With face of pouting promise
King-size conceits, all shown in mirrors

Gob-stoppers clog like rocks
Heart’s troubled mouths, lassoed by tickled taste
Placed hints
And flavours of bad breath; these cheesy Willy Wonka guys
All offer us their Golden Ticket scam,
Last chance- or lotto’s lost to everybody
We hit head-on and crash the instant buffers
Get smashed by that delight in high despite
Now paled, occluded, yet
Was there all the time

This orgy feast is realism realised, hardened, browned;
What’s lost is gone on fancied hankerings
Wheels within wheels turn spilling out of air
Some several sets of raunchy Russian Dolls; whose figurines
Obscure the steady spoils a little closer home;
That sacred round
Of mom’s best all-American apple-pie (cooked, ready-sliced,
Carved-up; and hanged be truth) much mardi-gras
Make-merry: Alack! Ohone!
And into the lowest circle are we now to go

 

You can also find this poem at our steemit blog: https://steemit.com/poetry/@matthew.raymer/candy-crunch

Nature Study: An Anthropocentric Mirror

 

I have written elsewhere about how we people in the present age largely see the natural world solely as a resource; a utility, a storehouse to be tapped on demand. Whether we view it from a point of view as tourists of exotic savannahs and rainforests; or as food for consumption; as entertainment; as potential nuisance and harm; as materials for providing goods and services in general; the case with the natural world it is still the that ‘Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you.’ but in a way almost a burlesque of the Biblical dispensation.

Robert Burns wrote to his tiny subject in his celebrated poem; ‘To a Mouse’:

‘I’m truly sorry man’s dominion
            Has broken nature’s social union’

And this topic is my theme in this piece today.

Firstly I want to look at wildlife programmes on TV and radio; and at how these are being presented and so perhaps get to the bottom of what presuppositions are held in common between audiences and presenters of them.

Of course, as one would expect, especially from biologists and persons who work with animals, and particularly with wild animals, Darwin’s theories, as these have developed since he wrote them, are high on the list of presuppositions of wildlife presentations. It is presumed always that in the wild life is hard and nature rigorously, even harshly, is ever in action sorting wheat from chaff and winners from losers. No sense that ‘every dog has its day’ or that it might sometimes be ‘summertime and the living is easy’. Alongside this presumption are the distant and inaccessible places, the remote and most inhospitable parts of the world, inimical to human life, which are those most favoured by the programme makers. So that, in contrast with our plushly-furnished living rooms, the ambience is stark and our own comforts and ease are thus felt as being accentuated. Why is this?

A meadow of flowers in late spring is not a subject for television; it pulls in few audiences; nothing moves or preys, nothing is at immediate risk or facing hardships.  ‘The uncertain glory of an April day’ is pretty tame stuff in our mental worlds.  I have written elsewhere about the need to thrill and to captivate audiences with fast hectic and risk-taking action which appears to be the essential one thing needful for ‘good’ television in the present age.  Thrillers, spies, cliff-hangers, whodunits, and such, are all the fare which is the order of the day.  Ever, of course, upping-the-ante, turning the screw, ratcheting up that extra notch of sensation and tension, thrill and shock.  This of course applies to wildlife programmes every bit as much as to fiction (and factual) TV – but there is more than only this here.

The idea of the natural world as at best indifferent, and for the most part hostile to human life and values; that all out there is ‘red in tooth and claw’ and thereabouts only the fittest survive; all this partakes of our general outlooks as well as partaking of Darwinism and of a commonplace romanticism being applied to Darwin.

There thus exists a large and precipitous divide opened up, between our understandings of nature, and our understandings of our own contemporary ways of life. Nature is a spectacle for us; a place we look upon as being elsewhere, almost to the point of it seeming to us to be alien to our own selves and our societies.  A disconnect exists.  It is akin to the same disconnect many of us bear in our apprehensions about the nature and sources of our food, of our medicines and medical treatments, of our deaths, of our human fellows in other places than those with which we are familiar – as if instead of TV bringing the world into our homes it has instead brought a means to see the world and remain untouched by the world it is showing to us.

And not just TV but our grocery shopping, our shopping for clothes, and our general economic setup whereby we are wholly removed from the fact of resourcing, manufacture and preparation of all the things which current lives seem to feel are required necessities for living.  Even the maintenance and repair of aeroplanes, train engines and ships; all happen ‘behind closed doors’ just as death and ritual burial happens ever elsewhere than in our ken or our fields of activity and presence.  At a service we see a boxed up corpse sent into instant incineration or buried; a great cosmetic operation has been performed on the contents beforehand so as to dress nicely the window of death.  We see only flowers and tears; sweet things but nothing blatantly and factually material concerning the demise.  The very thought of being confronted with such is unseemly to many minds and eyes ears and noses; but how far this is a reflection upon us rather than upon the fact of death and its dreadfulness is a moot question indeed.

In the same way we kill our meats in abattoirs again on the other side of a closed door from meat’s consumers.  There are few scenic shows on abattoirs on TV and on the processes by which we get our meats as it comes to us from our butcher’s shop or supermarket. Like all foods it is for the most part wrapped in polythene, possibly vacuum packed or packed in a sterile or irradiated atmosphere; no chance of a human hand having touched it since it was slaughtered – yet God knows what antibiotics and other drugs have been pumped into the animal it came from whilst it was alive and into the meat itself once the animal has been killed?  Ah, but this is all good antiseptic stuff being pumped in and it is all for our goods, our healths our wellbeings.  Drugs and chemicals, packaging and presentation of meat and other goods is not, is never done, for the sake of marketing or for the sake of offering farmers and others better yields and so greater profits? God forbid!  And of course when all this happens behind closed doors we are spared from the nasty and even distressing scenes because of the care and consideration of the abattoir managers and of the manufactures of other goods; who have only our finer feelings at heart. Of course we can trust them. Of course there are not less noble reasons why we do not see, are not easily able to see or to keep tabs on what goes on behind these doors. God forbid!

I am not suggesting anything unlawful or against regulations and regulatory bodies goes on thereabouts; what I am suggesting is that what goes on even though lawful is often felt by those with the say to be done better without sight of and without a knowledge of the actual factual processes, being encouraged to a general public.

Thus we have a benevolent consumerism, benevolent as much as, if not more, towards producers and towards the cult of entrepreneurship than towards the consumer, who is just a piece in the puzzle of the quest of wealth, All is backed to the hilt by government, and again we are felt best served to be removed alienated from production of near all consumer goods.

The emphasis of wildlife programmes is to reinforce the feeling that home is not like that; that home is a place where one need not keep oneself fit to be able to survive; home is a cosy insulated, kapok-lined safe-nest. Nature is other; is antagonistic to life; it is not human or soft and gentle, like those soapflakes which one is warned on the packet not to get in one’s eyes or to leave open near children.

This cosy-home feeling is extensible for many of us to out of doors and to social ‘networking’ in general. The close and insular safety and assurance of a personal ‘network’ wherein one gets involved in and embroiled with fruitless tete-a-tetes which signify little except that little is happening or else registering in the minds of their participants.

Visibly, in manifold ways, it is as plain as the nose on one’s face that our society, it seems to me deliberately, is being closed down from news and understanding, and from awareness of the basic material conditions of life and living. These basic material conditions are not necessarily hostile, perhaps rarely so, nor even often indifferent – we have bread to eat and ale to drink – but whilst we are directed to be focused on buying and selling, on games and on sports and leisure, and on producing and making money; we are in no way able to turn our attentions to more foundational things, such as quo bono from all this hive of hectic activity we name in the present to be our liberal way of life?

It appears to me to be very likely that the mass of people, and myself too, I say, I am just another guy, no-one special, we are being herded and managed like the flocks of sheep and the corrals of beef; which we are not encouraged to access because these things are being managed behind blinds and shutters.  This is not so much the result of a conscious conspiracy as  it is a consequence of a cartel of unwritten, perhaps unacknowledged, agreement on an ethos acquiesced in by what might be called – remembering that scum as well as cream rises to the top – the big entrepreneurial few.

These are those who claim for themselves a title of ‘opinion-former’ and who are contented and self-assured enough to feel that they have the nous and the means and the right and the opportunity to say what goes and how things should be run and set in  order.

Whoever is there amongst us, except the fortunate few who maybe have seen in Christ (or perhaps elsewhere?) another and far better way; who is not the person to capitalise (the word itself gives the game away) on their position were they to be happily translated into such a high and hot seat at a United Nations of predation that is Capitalism?  And if this is true, and I fear it is, then are we to expect those who have catapulted themselves into that stratosphere of Capital to become plaster saints and so to keep a weather-eye out for us rather than to seek out every opportunity for themselves and for their own advancements?

Thus, this is the rationale behind this Troupe of Thieves and Robbers; for them to promote to us their own ethos of ‘every man for himself and the weakest goes to the wall’; and yet be full aware that this ethos of theirs is a divide and rule policy of theirs for their managing of the many; and likewise another management policy is the overwhelming undiluted feelgood factor which is ubiquitously promoted in their consumerism, TV and movie shows, advertising, entertainment, sports, and Uncle Tom Cobbly and all; which for most of us comprises a life. All this is merely window-dressing, herding and flocking, diversion and distraction, a keeping of us ‘happy’ whilst they continue to ransack the planet so as to amass yet more wealth and grandiose power (dreams).  No wonder we have the term ‘midlife crisis’; a time when people look forward and take stock and draw a blank about what life might really be about.

We find ourselves at a loss in a way similar to the gorgeous ladies and fine gentlemen in Robert Browning’s poem ‘A Toccata of Galuppi’s’:

‘As for Venice and her people, merely born to bloom and drop, 
Here on earth they bore their fruitage, mirth and folly were the crop: 
What of soul was left, I wonder, when the kissing had to stop?”

As for nature and that part of the natural world we refer to as ‘the wild’; and as for the painted hostility of nature to its creatures and vegetations; the supposed stark harshness and difficulty of surviving in the wild and so on; the fact remains that creatures do reproduce successfully ‘after their kind’ and that there is – just as there is in our own lives – very often a petulant and abandoned period of early youth, followed by a full summer of light and heat with a graceful autumnal winding down before the dark days come in. This is the way with most of nature; and nature provides for its creation just as it provides for us – even though oftentimes we are not well-sighted sufficiently to appreciate that this is the bedrock we remain reliant on and subsistent upon.

Thus under a belief that offence will be given to others of other religions which do not have such a celebration, Harvest Festival is no longer enjoyed as a Thanksgiving to God in many British schools.  I am astonished that there might be religions which have no awareness of the bounty of Providence towards men and women, but this is the excuse given – in truth.  The fact might be more likely that Harvest Festival has dwindled because our general awareness and appreciation of nature as bountiful; and of our reliance upon it being so; has similarly dwindled.  And along with such a loss of realisation of these connections to whereabouts some of our most important roots lie,  has come too a concomitant loss in quality of life.  Thus we have lives centred on trivia and on marketed leisure; on gossip and on ‘beat your neighbour at his own game’ and on a whole raft of infills and makeshifts which have supplanted an appreciation for a life of gratitude and praise towards the provider of all good thing to us – in whichever shape or form one might wish to try to understand or grasp the idea of such an entity.

I feel that I am rowing against the current and that the wind is not behind me; I am very much aware that I come across to many as antiquated and as ‘living in the past’ and maybe perhaps as ‘unable to accept the fact’ of post modern understanding and post this and that.  Yet I have read post modernist works and many I have enjoyed and found useful to me in clearing my mind on issues and thoughts.  I listen now and then to highbrow-type shows on radio mostly; maybe I read a blog or two weekly also; and I feel I could give a fair account of what the current orthodox intellectual position is -for British intellectuals anyway.

My heart is however firmly with the divines of the Reformation and the two hundred years that followed it in Britain; the time in which the King James Bible was made and The Westminster Divines did their works; when the great Puritans lived and some of them went to found what was to become the USA; this was I believe a Golden Age for religious thought and endeavour; and one which had large and yet-enduring political consequences.

I feel very much that we have, during the past two hundred years, junked the baby, particularly with Christmas hard approaching, I may say – the Christ child – with the bathwater when we emptied the waste away.

As a result our horizons far from having become broader and more exciting – for all that science and technology has delivered to us – have narrowed severely and our freedoms and our awarenesses are constrained and delimited abruptly: curtailed, compared to the horizons available and availed of by persons over much of 2000 plus, maybe 6000 plus, years of history.

Let me give you an instance of this ironic and sad state of affairs.  Copernicus and Galileo were penalised and persecuted because they each saw clearly that man is not the centre of things and earth not in the centre astronomically-speaking – and this clear-sightedness posed a great threat to the authority and continuance of the Church.  The fear of the Church was that people just might start ‘going their own way – like sheep’ and drifting away from the Church itself.  This fear was varnished over and presented in a form saying that Galileo and Copernicus were anathema and even antichrist; that they were mistaken and wrong. Either way they had to be silenced if this was at all possible.  In order for the Church to remain with a firm foot in the door of every person’s house men had to remain at the centre of things astronomically as well as in all other things.  The anthropologists term this conceptual centring of mankind ‘anthropocentrism’.

Galileo is a folk hero these days; he is one of the exemplary justifications for our science and its achievements. A role model.  It is due to him and his like, so the story goes, than men and women became able to move away from anthropocentrism and so ‘move on’ and become set free in mind to ‘boldly go where no man has gone before’ etc etc. OK accepted – all good.

I was hearing a term used yet again last evening on a show named ‘Freethinking’ on BBC Radio 3 when a pundit spoke of an ‘anthropocene’ age, and even more pretentiously of an era presumed yet to be and named by men and women as the ‘post-anthropocene’.  These terms I assume are ones inspired by the geological classification of aeons and eras of ancient prehistory right up to our present time which is normally called the Quaternary Age.  The terms mean: firstly ‘anthropocene’ means ‘the age of man’ of his presence and dominance on earth; and secondly ‘post-anthropocene’ is that putative age to be wherein no human beings have survived and the species homo-sapiens is extinct.

Here we have the age in which we are living defined and delimited by it being ‘the age of men and of their domination of the earth’: I do not think the medieval Church could have put better its own view of life. Further, the gall with which the purveyors of these terms have presumed that there is without doubt to be an age in which humans have died out and become a species extinct, is stupendously audacious in its presumption and hubris.  Here we have displayed one of the crucial maladies which define our age, the age of man (sic); and this is our self-satisfaction and complacency, our racing certainty that we are dead right; so that I might say as Job says to his persecutors: ‘I see that you are the people and that wisdom with die with you.’

Where is our modesty; our humbleness, our respect for nature and for the progression of time to do as it pleases rather than us backing that horse which comes in when we shall all expire?  It is indeed the great arrogance of the Church all over again; only with a fixated belief that our science and technology and our human brainpower combined cannot be matched or prevented in any way – we know we are right.

It is little wonder we have little charity towards those in the world drinking dirty polluted water; and eating husks and scavenged roots, who live on a few cents diet a day in no sort of house or home we should consider suitable. The people who are little better of than slaves and working in atrocious conditions which make our precious concerns for health and safety and for 24/7 A&E (Emergency Room) services look like Paradise on earth.  We have so weak an association of empathy and sympathy with such persons not because ‘that was in another country and besides the wench is dead’ but because our own horizons are so curtailed and stunted. We do not ‘live’ their suffering alongside with them and inside us as we see and we hear of their travails; we are unable to relate because ours is a world, a society, wherein so much has been insulated from us for our comforts and so much shoved under the carpets for us for our peace of mind:  And for the pockets of the entrepreneurial few to bulge yet bigger.

            ‘I am half-sick of shadows said
            The Lady of Shallot’

Rather than us biting the bullet and taking the plunge and testing the water or sucking and seeing for ourselves we are contented, and even so blasé as not to care sufficiently to become  contented with, going out there and seeing for ourselves and feeling for ourselves the misery of so many people’s lives in these awful  places. And also and marvellously so – how such afflicted people can be hospitable and smile and be welcoming and pleasant and overboard with a rush of overflowing loveliness to the stranger from the wealthy place who has dropped into see them and their ways of life.

My friend went to East Africa in the noughties. He was in his early forties and he went out with a team to build a clinic for people there. Noble enough. He was astonished, shocked and appalled at what he found when he arrived in the village – he had never conceived such deprivation could exist and yet human lives could bear it and stay functioning and functional.   He was a graduate. He was not a recluse or a wallflower – he was a ‘networker’ and still is; and I would say at least compared to me a dynamic person. One who kept himself bang up to date on what concerned or interested him.

Yet here he was as if he had flown not to the sub Sahara but to Neptune or Pluto and found undiscovered unimagined life existent there.  I wondered where he had been when the TV had posted up so blatantly such environments across the nation as it is wont to do now and then?  I am no traveller; but many many persons here in UK are so very very embedded, and inured to a comfortable easy life, that such pictures of factual horror just do not sink-in for them as being the reality in certain parts of the world.  Our softness of life has made us insensitive.  Dylan puts it less kindly and sings:
‘Your corrupt ways have finally made you blind’

 Just as the daily doses of horror during the Vietnam years and the daily doses of horror in the post Iraq war 2 years as promoted daily by TV and radio news and newsreel; just as much of it just passed many of us by as being ‘not our back yards’, so it is with these horrors of suffering around the globe when we become exposed to reportage of them – although this said many people do really yet remain guilt stricken here about Iraq.

Just as we find hard our connecting back with nature and with its basis for all life including our own human lives; so we find it equally hard to connect across the sea to foreign peoples, who are yet humans like us, and who are trapped in lives of such deplorable squalor. Much more and rather we would as easily find it in our hearts to complain bitterly and show intemperate anger at our Foreign Aid budgets being ‘too high’ and at our taxes and other dues being outrageous; at our trains being late and the flight to southern Spain or to Orlando being delayed.  Sadly too many of us don’t know we are born – as the saying goes.

King Lear, who lived in a royal palace all his eighty plus years before he found himself cast out and wildly maddened by the treatment that his usurping daughters dished out to him; he says when he bumps into a poor mad beggar who like Lear is also battling with and suffering in the great stormy weather going on around the dramatic action:

“Poor naked wretches, whereso’er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these? Oh, I have ta’en
Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp.
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them
And show the heavens more just.”

 It took Lear eighty plus years – but he got there eventually – thus there remains hope for us.

 

You can also find this article at our steemit blog: https://steemit.com/society/@matthew.raymer/nature-study-an-anthropocentric-mirror